Should You Believe in the Trinity? (Introduction)

Who is Jesus? This question reveals a major breach between what Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christians believe.

Several years ago, when I was meeting regularly with Abbie, a Jehovah’s Witness, she gave me an attractive little booklet entitled, “Should You Believe in the Trinity?” The book goes through the “history” of the Doctrine of the Trinity before getting into theology and scripture itself. At first, I glossed over the history of the trinity, pretty much taking Watchtower’s word for it, and focused with my JW friends on scripture regarding Christ’s identity (I figured scripture was more important than history anyway, right?).

But when one of my aunts revealed some of her research into the historical segments of the booklet, I knew I needed to see the “whole story” behind these quoted passages. Watchtower did not make it easy to double-check these quotes. Although they did cite sources, they did not cite page numbers or chapters (there is no bibliography in the booklet). Thankfully someone else had done the lion’s share of locating the exact sources of the whole quotes, and I only needed to search out these sources to ascertain their meaning for myself.

I plan to re-type my notes made from researching this booklet (I have 6 pages of notes just from researching the first half of the booklet!) and post them here (eventually — I’ve really not much time for blogging these days!). I will include links to online books or to real books (for sale at Amazon or possibly for free at your library) whenever possible so you can look up quotes in their intended context. I wouldn’t want you to take my word for it — check these out for yourselves!

After typing up my notes regarding the history of trinitarian doctrine , I plan to list scripture verses that demonstrate there is only God, that the Father is God, that Jesus is God, and that the Spirit is God. I’ve never been one to be picky about the word “trinity.” It means nothing holy to me, in and of itself. The concept behind the word, however, is precious and can be found from Genesis to Revelation in the Holy Scriptures.

For those of you not interested in wading through my (possibly boring) pages of notes regarding quotes and historical teachings, I thought I’d mention a shining example of a quote published in the Should You Believe in the Trinity booklet that was taken out of context.

If a Jehovah’s Witnesses friend of yours shares this booklet with you, please look with them at this quote from Jesuit Edmund Fortman, on page 6, under the heading Testimony of the Greek Scriptures:

“Jesuit Fortman states: ‘The New Testament writers…give us no formal or formulated doctrine of the Trinity, no explicit teaching that in one God there are three co-equal divine persons…Nowhere do we find any trinitarian doctrine of three distinct subjects of divine life and activity in the same Godhead.'”

Now, I must say that Watchtower used Jesuit Fortman’s exact words.

And the Watchtower was honest in revealing to us when words have been omitted from the quotes by using …’s.

However, if you were to read Jesuit Fortman’s words in their entirety, would you see that he meant the same thing Watchtower tells us he means?

As you read Fortman’s words for yourself, consider what you think his intention was in writing them. Was he out to discredit or validate the doctrine of the trinity? Was he out to show that the Bible does not reveal a trinitarian doctrine or that it does indeed so?

Please see the .pdf version of The Triune God by Jesuit Fortman online to read this for yourself. The full quote can be found on pages xv and xvi of the Introduction. (The final phrase in the above-mentioned quote after the last “…” is not found in The Triune God until several PAGES later, in Chapter 2, page 16, if you’d like to read that quote in its entirety as well.)

I placed the words from the quote below that Watchtower used in the booklet in italics. The rest of the quote was hidden in the …’s.

“If we take the New Testament writers together they will tell us there is only one God, the creator and lord of the universe, who is the Father of Jesus. They call Jesus the Son of God, Messiah, Lord, Savior, Word, Wisdom. They assign Him the divine functions of creation, salvation, judgment. Sometimes they call Him God explicitly. They do not speak as fully and clearly of the Holy Spirit as they do of the Son, but at times they coordinate Him with the Father and the Son and put Him on a level with them as far as divinity and personality are concerned. They give us in their writings a triadic ground plan and triadic formulas. They do not speak in abstract terms of nature, substance, person, relation, circumincession, mission, but they present in their own ways the ideas that are behind these terms. They give no formal or formulated doctrine of the Trinity, no explicit teaching that in one God there are three co-equal divine persons. But they do give us an elemental trinitarianism, the data from which such a formal doctrine of the Triune God may be formulated.”

There were enough discrepancies between several passages in the booklet and their author’s original intentions to cause me to believe that Watchtower was being deliberately deceptive in its presentation.

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12 thoughts on “Should You Believe in the Trinity? (Introduction)

  1. Hey Deborah,

    Thanks for giving an example. Do you want to know how I had an idea that this research wasn’t all on your own? Whoever it was that compiled that data for you must have added an extremely critical commentary to go along with it. That’s true, isn’t it?

    There is nothing wrong with the example you provided above. The article this quote appears in is called, “Is [The Trinity] Clearly a Bible Teaching?” So all of the quoted opinions cited from other authors, theologians, etc. are going to be edited to *focus* on THAT question. We are not exploring whether or not an ‘elementary’ or fuzzy version of the Trinity appears in the Bible that has to be worked out by Church clergymen over centuries to establish it as a clear teaching. We ONLY want to know, is it in the Bible, and is it clear?

    This is emphasized again just before your example appears in the brochure. Under the subtitle, “Testimony of the Greek Scriptures”, we read, “WELL, then, do the Christian Greek Scriptures (‘New Testament’) speak clearly of a Trinity?” Again, is it in the Bible, and is it a clear teaching? This is our only concern when considering these sources. Given that premise, the quote from Jesuit Fortman is edited appropriately. Editing a quote down so that only the parts dealing with the topic at hand appear is accepted in the professional and scholarly community. It creates the benefit of focusing the discussion to what is being considered.

    So does Jesuit Fortman believe that the Trinity is NOT a clear Bible teaching, yet he still believes it is in the Bible in an unclear, primitive form so that theologians could properly develop it later? That may be, but all we are considering, and all the publication claims to be considering, is whether or not Fortman believes that the Trinity is a clear Bible teaching. He does not.

    The next article in the brochure, entitled “How Did the Trinity Doctrine Develop?”, goes on to consider the process through which “a formal doctrine of the Triune God may be formulated”, as Fortman says in your larger quote above, and whether or not that process was scriptural.

    So there is no deliberate deception going on here. Relative portions of scholarly resources are quoted to answer a very specific question that has been posed. Honestly, I would think it would be obvious that the brochure wasn’t implying, ‘see, this guy agrees with us completely on everything you read in this magazine.’ And yet the reaction you have above would seem to demand such an implication.

    But again, I think you are listening and/or reading sources that are telling you over and over that this is what the brochure means when it quotes these people. Reading the brochure for itself, it certainly does nothing of the sort! It’s perfectly honest about how the quoted author feels about the question, but it doesn’t bog down its reader with how the quoted author feels about everything else.

    Thanks,
    TJ

  2. TJ,

    The Watchtower must be difficult to defend, and I admire your tenacity. However, there is no law saying you have to continue on with them in spite of the lack of biblical teaching. I realize you have invested a lot of your life, and you probably have friends and family that are deeply involved, and you don’t want to be rejected by them. First of all, you can word your resignation letter in such a way as to not be disfellowshipped. Second, you must be willing to lose everything you own, your friends, family and even your life for Jesus.

    Matthew 19:29 says, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.”

    Have you left everything or are you willing to leave everything for Jesus?

    You must repent of your idolatry and all of your sins, or you will spend eternity in the lake of fire (Revelation 21:8). The intellectual challenge of debating these issues can be fun, and sometimes people get carried away, but the stakes are so extremely high. Every day you spend on this earth is a gift from Jesus. He’s giving you another day to humble yourself and seek the forgiveness that only the true Jesus of the Bible–the I AM–can provide. Please ask Jesus to make you born again.

    Thanks,
    Bill

  3. Well hey Bill,

    It’s been a long time. Your comment doesn’t really have much to do with the actual topic, so I’ll be brief. Being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses has brought me into a close relationship with Jehovah God through Jesus Christ. That relationship motivates me to give up worldly things and to get out and preach the good news about the Kingdom.

    If anyone’s interested to see my previous discussion with Mr. Phillips to determine for themselves which of us was more willing to allow the Bible, and NOT our theology, to speak for itself, please see:
    http://billphillips.wordpress.com/2007/10/19/is-jehovahs-witnesses-jesus-adequate/

    Thanks,
    TJ

  4. TJ,

    I think you missed my point.

    You may win every debate you ever get into. In fact, you may trounce every dumb Christian you run into, but it doesn’t matter at all if you are wrong. If you are wrong about the need to be born again, the eternality of hell, the deity of Jesus, you will spend eternity in the lake of fire. Every lie you’ve ever told, every penny you’ve ever stolen, every time you’ve looked at a woman with lust will be accounted for on Judgment Day.

    1 John 5:12 says, “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” Do you have the Son? If not, you’re in big trouble. If you believe you have the Son, how do you know for sure that that’s true, and not just your mind and emotions tricking you?

    Thanks,
    Bill

  5. TJ,

    I honestly can’t remember the specific commentary that went along with research about this booklet . All I have here at home are my 6 pages of personal notes from several years ago, where I wrote whole quotes and where to find them and questions to consider. The quotes really speak for themselves and don’t need much explanation. Even with explanation, I like to do my own research where I can. I remember being VERY thankful that someone made these quotes easier to find. I would have given up trying to research with just the info from the booklet (which is probably the idea, do you think?).

    You said, “So there is no deliberate deception going on here. Relative portions of scholarly resources are quoted to answer a very specific question that has been posed. Honestly, I would think it would be obvious that the brochure wasn’t implying, ’see, this guy agrees with us completely on everything you read in this magazine.’ And yet the reaction you have above would seem to demand such an implication.” And you also said, about the brochure, “It’s perfectly honest about how the quoted author feels about the question, but it doesn’t bog down its reader with how the quoted author feels about everything else.”

    Funny how we really see this through different eyes!

    I totally understand scholarly resources being quoted to answer a very specific question. But when the question is, “Is the Trinity a New Testament teaching?” shouldn’t the quotes given represent honestly the scholar-being-quoted’s opinion? If Watchtower wants to let you know what certain scholars thought about this question, shouldn’t they represent those scholars accurately?

    Jesuit Fortman thought this WAS a New Testament teaching. From just the above quote you can see he unabashedly thought that the Trinity is a biblical teaching. Speaking of what those New Testament writers wrote,” he says (in the very same short passage) about Jesus, “Sometimes they call Him God explicitly.” and about the Spirit, “They do not speak as fully and clearly of the Holy Spirit as they do of the Son, but at times they coordinate Him with the Father and the Son and put Him on a level with them as far as divinity and personality are concerned.” Fortman is saying the New Testament writers call Jesus God and put the Spirit on the same divine level as Father and Son – this is Trinitarian doctrine, precisely in fact!

    If Watchtower wanted to argue with Fortman about how Jesus or the Spirit are not God, or point out inconsistencies in his thinking, fine. But how can quoting only the parts of his sentences that back up Watchtower’s position be O.K.? That isn’t right.

    Fortman’s words have been used to express an opinion that is. not. his. Reading the shortened quote would lead one to believe Fortman saw no testimony to the Trinity in the Greek scriptures. What is left out of the quotes is Fortman expressing how he sees Trinitarian doctrine being taught in scripture (i.e. Jehovah is God, Jesus is God, the Spirit is God, yet there is only ONE God.) Fortman is saying that without using the word “trinity,” trinitarian concepts were taught. But what we are left with in the booklet is a wrong understanding, only the “without using the word ‘trinity’” portion of his thoughts.

    Here comes a lame analogy, but it’s the best I can think of on the fly!

    Imagine I took a quote from a scholar that said “There is clearly no formal theology on theocracy to be found in the scripture…,” and published it in a booklet I was using to demonstrate that the idea of God governing over humans was unscriptural. Reading the quote, you would think that this scholar didn’t see any teaching on God-driven government anywhere in the Bible. If you were not well-read, you may even wonder what kind of dolt thought up “theocracy” if it’s not even found anywhere in the Holy Book! But what if I then showed you the rest of the scholarly quote went something like, “There is clearly no formal theology on theocracy to be found in the scripture, but the concepts and examples and promises of theocracies are found from Genesis to Revelation giving us a firm understanding of God’s viewpoint on this subject.” And what if I even was able to share that the very book the quote was taken from was a book designed to teach others about how the idea of theocracy is taught in the Bible? Would you say I had been fair to put only part of this scholar’s quote into my booklet? Or would you say that I was quoting the part of the passage that backed up what I wanted to express, without fairly representing the scholar?

    There are more quotes like this in the brochure which I will post when I can – quotes where the true thoughts of the authors seem to be different than the opinions one would assume from reading the partial quotes. The brochure also quotes a few scholars and theologians that have not been accepted by mainstream, historical Christianity (for being too liberal or being heretical). It bothered me that their quotes were thrown in as if they represented normal Christianity. (But it was also VERY good for me to investigate the good, the bad, and the ugly of historical Christianity. I am thankful to Watchtower for giving me a nice shove in the direction of becoming more scholarly myself!)

    It has been very interesting talking to you. Thank you for continued “shoves” to keep reading, researching, and learning.

    Some time I would like to go through all these conversations you’ve had with others and read them again (I haven’t been over to read yours and Bill’s yet, can’t wait!).

    Thanks for sharing from your heart.

    Deborah
    (For the record, I have no idea about Jesuit Fortman’s theology, and whether or not I would have significant respect for his work. Regardless of whether or not Fortman and I would see eye to eye theologically, I think it was WRONG of Watchtower to paint him differently than he wanted to come across.)

  6. Hey Bill, welcome!

    And, um, who you callin’ a “dumb Christian”? (Wink, wink! I’m just kidding.)

    Isn’t the great thing about CHRISTianity that Christians CAN be dummies and Jesus will do His thing in spite of us?? I just LOVE that!!

    Seriously, I am so thankful that Jehovah uses the weak things of the world to show the wise.

    And I also love the fact that if Jesus wants someone for His own, He’s gonna get ‘em – even the most “hopeless” case is not immune. Although, I guess we are all pretty much “hopeless cases”!

    Thank you, LORD, for Grace!

  7. Hi Deborah,

    Thank you for your thoughtful response. I think there is one critical difference in how you are viewing these quoted sources from how the Watchtower publication used them. You framed the brochure’s question in this way, “Is the Trinity a New Testament teaching?” This is NOT the question that the brochure asks, and this makes all the difference.

    The question being asked is, “Is [The Trinity] Clearly a Bible Teaching?”, the key word being “Clearly” (which is repeated throughout the article). You see, many scholars, including Fortman, believe that there is an “elemental Trinitarianism” in the Bible, more of an ‘implied’ teaching that had to be interpreted and clarified through theological development in the centuries following the completion of the Bible. But as far as the Trinity doctrine *clearly* being taught in scripture, most scholars (including Fortman) will concede that it is not.

    Why is this nuance important? Well, as the New Catholic Encyclopedia admits, if the Trinity doctrine is not *clearly* taught in scripture, it indeed “is not . . . directly and immediately [the] word of God.” Wouldn’t you agree that the first step in determining whether or not one should believe in the Trinity (the purpose of the brochure) would be to understand what the Trinity doctrine teaches and whether or not it is a clear and direct Bible teaching? After those questions have been answered, one can then move on to the question of whether or not one can properly *infer* the Trinity doctrine from the Bible.

    So again, Fortman believes that the Trinity doctrine can be INFERRED from the Bible, but he does not believe that it is CLEARLY taught in the Bible. Does this make sense?

    Thanks,
    TJ

  8. Hello Deborah,

    I understand that you may be very busy. But I hope that you’ll have the time to give a fair consideration to how the Trinity brochure uses the quotes we are considering. It is not using the quotes in attempt to prove that the authors quoted don’t feel that an UNCLEAR version of the Trinity doctrine is in the Bible, rather it is using the quotes to show that the authors feel that there is no CLEAR version of the Trinity doctrine in the Bible.

    This is right in line with the progression of the brochure. It starts with the overall question “Should You Believe in the Trinity?”, which is the title. The first chapter, entitled “Should You Believe It?”, explains why the question is important. The second chapter, entitled “How Is the Trinity Explained?”, gives the definition of the Trinity doctrine from various sources. The third chapter, entitled “Is It Clearly a Bible Teaching?”, considers whether or not that doctrine, defined in the previous chapter, is CLEARLY spelled out in the Bible, using various scholarly sources’ opinions on the matter.

    The fourth chapter, entitled “How Did the Trinity Doctrine Develop?”, explains how the doctrine was shaped and influenced in the centuries following the completion of the Bible, and also considers what the Bible says about what would happen after the apostles died out. The fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters, entitled “What Does the Bible Say About God and Jesus?”, “Is God Always Superior to Jesus?”, and “The Holy Spirit—God’s Active Force”, consider what the Bible itself has to say about the three purported members of the Trinity and their various identities and positions.

    It is in the eighth chapter, entitled “What About Trinity ‘Proof Texts’?”, where the evidence put forth by Fortman and others as ‘elemental Trinitarianism’ is examined to see if the Trinity can be INFERRED from the Bible. Finally, after the main question “Should You Believe in the Trinity?” has been properly considered, chapter nine, entitled “Worship God on His Terms”, encourages readers to accept what the Bible itself teaches about God.

    So if you look at how these chapters progress from one aspect of the main question to the other, it should be obvious that there was no attempt to deceive you when the question of whether or not the doctrine is CLEARLY taught in the Bible was considered. The type of evidence Fortman relies in support of the Trinity is considered later on, in the chapter “What About Trinity ‘Proof Texts’?”

    Looking at this again, do you still think that the brochure was deliberately trying to deceive you?

    Thanks,
    TJ

  9. Hi TJ!

    I started to write you back a few times, but felt I would end up just re-iterating the same ideas! Our view of these things is skewed one way or another according to our prejudices, and this makes communicating and understanding one another difficult.

    I have come to understand that because you define Trinity in a way completely differently than I do, you do not see the way these quotes are being misused. I realized from your replies that you see the Trinity as explained in the brochure: a confusing doctrine not found in scripture and heavily influenced by Pagan religion. If you could put those pre-suppositions aside for a moment (not for yourself to be convinced of the Trinity – I won’t try talking you into that!) just so you could understand what Christians (myself and Jesuit Fortman included) see in scripture and believe regarding the Trinity, then you would better understand how this brochure strongly misrepresents Christian thought. I don’t want to keep going around in circles about this with you and feel that unless you can see how Christians view the Trinity, what I’m trying to explain won’t make sense.

    Christians are much more concerned about the WHAT of the Trinity than with the HOW. Christians see that the Bible is very clear about the WHAT of the Trinity: The Father is God, the Son is God, the Spirit is God; Yet there is only one God.

    The Bible is NOT clear about the HOW of the Trinity.

    Back to Jesuit Fortman. Reading the rest of Fortman’s quote demonstrates that Mr. Fortman believes there is a very CLEAR teaching of the WHAT of the Trinity in the Bible, while the HOW is not formally taught in scripture.

    This is why Fortman says that New Testament writers EXPLICITLY (can that word mean anything other than “clearly-to-the-max”?) call Jesus God. Fortman also refers to NT writers putting the Holy Spirit on a level with them (speaking of the Father and Jesus) as far as divinity and personality (divinity, of course, meaning God-ness). To a Christian, them’s Trinitarian words. The Father being God, Jesus being God, the Holy Spirit being God — THIS IS WHAT “TRINITY” MEANS. If Fortman thinks these ideas are taught “explicitly” in scripture, then he thinks the Trinity is clearly taught in scripture. Any Christian would not think twice about this — that is what those very words mean to us.

    What Watchtower quotes from Fortman are excerpts of his thoughts that say he doesn’t see the HOW of the Trinity taught in scripture. Fortman saying there is no “formal doctrine” of the Trinity while in the same breath pointing out how the Trinity (Jesus is God, the Spirit is God) is explicitly taught in scripture is like Fortman saying, “The Bible is clear about WHAT the Trinity is, but not clear about how the Trinity should be explained or understood.” If you took just part of my paraphrase “The Bible…is not clear about…the Trinity.” and quoted me in a brochure like this, readers would assume I thought the Trinity is not clearly taught in scripture. Yet this is NOT the impression you get from reading more of Jesuit Fortman (his full quote, or his full book)!

    Fortman is a shining example of a Christian thinking the HOW of the Trinity is not as important as the WHAT. Fortman’s whole phraseology here is to point out that although the Bible doesn’t teach the ins and outs of the Trinity, the basic tenets of the Trinity (not elemental sketches but concrete truths) are distinctly taught in scripture. To pick out only the parts of Fortman’s words that say the “HOW” isn’t found in scripture would cause Jehovah’s Witnesses or atheists or “dumb” Christians reading this booklet to wonder if the ENTIRE IDEA OF THE TRINITY (the WHAT and the HOW) is not found in scripture. And this was NOT Fortman’s point. Not in the least.

    I know Watchtower doesn’t see the concept of the Trinity in the way Christians do. Perhaps they don’t even really understand what it is Christians themselves believe. But it is not nice of Watchtower to frame someone’s thoughts in such a way as to make it look like that person thinks something OPPOSITE of what he actually thinks.

    Wikipedia’s definition of proof-texting says (read their short article here):
    “Prooftexting is the practice of using decontextualised quotations from a document (often, but not always, a book of the Bible) to establish a proposition rhetorically through an appeal to authority. Critics of the technique note that often the document, when read as a whole, may not in fact support the proposition.”

    It’s not just Fortman who is being quoted in this brochure to look like he is supporting the opposite of what he believes. I found other examples of Watchtower quoting someone in a way that represents that individual (I do plan to post all the quote I took notes on some day) in an opposite way as the original intention. Here’s a short one that can demonstrate the same principle.

    Under “How is the Trinity Explained?” there is a sub-heading called “Beyond the Grasp of Human Reason.” This section is there to demonstrate that Christians themselves think the Trinity is unexplainable (which comes across, strongly, as meaning “unreasonable”).

    Here’s the first paragraph:
    “This confusion is widespread. The Encyclopedia Americana notes that the doctrine of the Trinity is considered to be ‘beyond the grasp of human reason.’”

    What’s this paragraph’s point? That Christians and others are CONFUSED by the Trinity, and that the doctrine is impossible to contemplate. Would you not agree that this is what the Watchtower is saying?

    Here’s the real quote: “It is held that ALTHOUGH the doctrine is beyond the grasp of human reason, it is, like many of the formulations of physical science, not contrary to reason, and may be apprehended (though it may not be comprehended) by the human mind.” (You can look this up yourself in the Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 27, 1980, pg 116. The article is called The Trinity and is by Fredrick C. Grant.)

    I looked up the word “apprehend” at dictionary.com and found this definition: “to grasp the meaning of; understand, esp. intuitively; perceive.”

    In other words, Mr. Grant’s whole statement about being “beyond the grasp of human reason” says the opposite of what is being purported here. He is not saying that the Trinity is too confusing to contemplate. His referenced quote is prefaced by a very large “ALTHOUGH…” and followed up by a statement that says similarly to some aspects of science that are hard to grasp, the concept of the Trinity CAN be understood and perceived!

    Do you see the vast difference in meaning?

    Watchtower quotes Mr. Grant and the encyclopedia as a way of showing us some outside authority to back up Watchtower’s own presumptions against the trinity. But the truth is, Mr. Grant was NOT saying what Watchtower made it look like he was saying.

    And that is not very nice.

    For Christians, the WHAT of the Trinity (found clearly throughout scripture) is much more important than the HOW of the Trinity (which IS to some degree beyond our mortal comprehension, as are many things about God’s nature — like how he has been here FOREVER and had no beginning point — His eternalness is something so difficult for our mortal minds to grasp!).

    By focusing on the HOW of the Trinity, taking quotes out of context, quoting extremely liberal theologians (like Hans Kung — we inherited some of his books when my husband’s grandmother died and did not keep them — I would not even consider him a Christian!! Although, we did find a one-hundred dollar bill stashed inside one of these books so it had some redeeming value — LOL!), the Watchtower builds what my college Speech course would have called a Straw Man Argument. It is easier to knock down a Straw Man than it is to knock down the real deal.

    And this, to me, constitutes deception. I don’t think you or an average Jehovah’s Witness are being deceptive in sharing this brochure. But the person who wrote this brochure – with all the research done, and with particular parts of quotes left out – must have known what he or she was doing. I feel that in publishing this brochure, Watchtower is not only deceiving the general public, but their own fellow believers as well.

    Again, TJ, thank you for your time to talk to myself and so many others on my blog. You have an incredible way with words and a great aptitude for spiritual discussion. My prayer is that Jehovah will richly bless you. Please keep seeking after Truth with all your heart.

    –Deborah

  10. Hi Deborah,

    Thanks for your response. You give the “real” quote from the Encyclopedia Americana. You then say, “His referenced quote is prefaced by a very large ‘ALTHOUGH…’ and followed up by a statement that says similarly to some aspects of science that are hard to grasp, the concept of the Trinity CAN be understood and perceived!”

    This is precisely WRONG! I’m sorry to be so bold, but the Encyclopedia Americana does not say that “the concept of the Trinity CAN be understood and perceived”, it says that it is “beyond the grasp of human reason”, meaning it CANNOT be understood and perceived by humans. It says that it “may be apprehended (though it may not be comprehended) by the human mind”.

    The meaning of the word “apprehended” was probably a poor choice of words, but the author evidently meant that the Trinity doctrine could be ‘taken hold of’ and ’embraced’, THOUGH IT MAY NOT BE COMPREHENDED! To “comprehend” something means, “to understand the nature or meaning of; grasp with the mind; perceive.” The author says that the Trinity can be apprehended, but NOT comprehended. You have completely misunderstood this “real” quote, and have accused others of deception based upon that misunderstanding.

    Please read that “real” quote over a few more times carefully, and let me know if you still think “He is not saying that the Trinity is too confusing to contemplate.” Remember, the author says clearly that it is BEYOND human reason, and it CANNOT be comprehended.

    Thanks,
    TJ

  11. I had said about the “real” quote from the Encyclopedia Americana: “His referenced quote is prefaced by a very large ‘ALTHOUGH…’ and followed up by a statement that says similarly to some aspects of science that are hard to grasp, the concept of the Trinity CAN be understood and perceived!”

    You replied: This is precisely WRONG! I’m sorry to be so bold, but the Encyclopedia Americana does not say that “the concept of the Trinity CAN be understood and perceived”, it says that it is “beyond the grasp of human reason”, meaning it CANNOT be understood and perceived by humans. It says that it “may be apprehended (though it may not be comprehended) by the human mind”.

    TJ, I think one of the reasons it is hard for you to see how these quotes are taken out of context may be because you can’t wrap your mind around the true context. The context being that Trinitarians are largely concerned with the WHAT of the Trinity (the fact that the scriptures state there is one God alone, alongside scriptures that state the Father is God, Jesus is God, and the Spirit is God). These men quoted are beginning from a paradigm so different than the one you are in, it must be hard to realize their intention because it just doesn’t make sense to you. These men are not saying that they think the Trinity is a doctrine unfounded in scripture, or too confusing for humans to “get”. Anytime these authors say anything uncertain about the doctrine of the trinity, it is about the HOW of the Trinity – something open among Christians to speculation and discussion and inquiry and wonder, not the WHAT of the Trinity – which they see clearly taught in scripture.

    The above-referenced quote does say that the concept of the Trinity cannot be grasped by the human mind, but the ENTIRE sentence surrounding those few words is to show that although it is hard to wrap our mind around the concept, it’s not impossible to understand it. Mr. Grant even uses the words “not contrary to reason” to demonstrate this (i.e., not unreasonable). The author also gives us a nice little material analogy so we can understand what he means about the trinity being understandable/not understandable. He gives us this analogy — physical science — so we don’t have to wonder exactly what he meant but can figure it out using something earthly and tangible as an example. There are certainly aspects of science which you and I can learn about, and believe, and understand with human reason, without being able to fully comprehend how they work!

    Albert Einstein once said, “The human mind is not capable of grasping the Universe.” I think you would agree that on so many levels we CAN understand our universe, but many parts of its complexities are out of our reach. We can understand many of the WHAT’s about the universe without understanding all the HOW’s. I think it is similar with God’s nature. The nice thing about God is that He has given us His Word. We don’t have to rely on man-made science textbooks or special telescopes to try to understand Him. Much of the WHAT about His nature is revealed in scripture (including the fact there is One God, that the Father is God, Jesus is God, and the Spirit is God). God has revealed so much to us – and yet He remains so far above us, how could we possibly totally figure Him out? Trinitarians aren’t in the least bothered by this, in fact, Him being so beyond us is what makes Him God!! Trinitarians would gladly admit that some aspects of the Trinity are beyond our understanding, but this is not the same as saying something is confusing or incomprehensible at all. Even Watchtower agrees that God is too big for us to put Him in a box (although I found this quote on the Internet, so you tell me if its saying what it looks like its saying): “Should we really expect to understand everything about a Person who is so great that he could bring into existence the universe, with all its intricate design and stupendous size?” (Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, Reasoning from the Scriptures (Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, 1989), 148.)

    You said: The meaning of the word “apprehended” was probably a poor choice of words, but the author evidently meant that the Trinity doctrine could be ‘taken hold of’ and ’embraced’, THOUGH IT MAY NOT BE COMPREHENDED! To “comprehend” something means, “to understand the nature or meaning of; grasp with the mind; perceive.” The author says that the Trinity can be apprehended, but NOT comprehended. You have completely misunderstood this “real” quote, and have accused others of deception based upon that misunderstanding.

    About the word “apprehend”: I don’t know Frederick C. Grant personally or academically, but just from googling him I see that he is a informational author, writing about history and for dictionaries and encyclopedias. Authors like him don’t tend to throw words around without knowing what they mean. One dictionary website tells me the word apprehend comes from Latin ORIGIN (apprehendere, from prehendere) and means ‘lay hold of’. I think it’s interesting how close this word is in usage to the word “grasp,” don’t you? Mr. Grant is telling us that although the Trinity is in some ways beyond our grasp, it is also within our grasp. Like the Universe – out of the grasp of the human mind in its size and complexity, yet not confusing or unreasonable. We all “believe” in the universe, don’t we? We don’t have to be able to wrap our minds around it completely to believe it is true.

    I honestly do not believe I am misunderstanding this “real” quote (nor the other one by Jesuit Fortman). Perhaps you cannot understand it because you cannot wrap your mind around the way Christians think. But, I have to reason that folks who wrote the brochure must have known the ins and outs of Trinitarian thought, and they must have known what they were doing when they chose to cut and paste only the parts of the quotes that appeared to back up their own thoughts about the Trinity.

    You said: Please read that “real” quote over a few more times carefully, and let me know if you still think “He is not saying that the Trinity is too confusing to contemplate.” Remember, the author says clearly that it is BEYOND human reason, and it CANNOT be comprehended.

    I read the quote over several times. I think Mr. Grant is saying on the one hand the Trinity is too difficult to contemplate, on the other hand it is very reasonable. This is why his quote beings with the words “Although…and ends with a tangible analogy and his opinion that the concept of the Trinity can be apprehended by the human mind. You have to read the whole quote, and understand the whole thought, instead of taking phrases in isolation. Again, it is not unusual for Trinitarians to think that the Trinity is in some ways easily graspable (WHAT we read in scripture) and in other ways really hard to grasp (HOW does that work?).

    What bothers me MUCH about the way Watchtower quoted these 2 men (and others, these are not isolated incidents) is because Watchtower only shows part of the picture, causing the average reader to think these Christians being quoted think the whole idea of the Trinity is confusing and unreasonable. In fact, these men are quoted for the sole purpose of showing that others think the way Watchtower does in regard to the Trinity. When I realized the men being quoted were in the camp who think the Trinity IS CLEARLY TAUGHT IN SCRIPTURE, and is not a CONFUSING doctrine that cannot be understood, I was surprised they were portrayed the way they are. These men, along with other people who believe in the Trinity, will say the HOW of the Trinity is incomprehensible while the WHAT of the Trinity is clearly taught in scripture. To quote them under sections out to prove the Trinity — as a general concept — is not taught in scripture or is too confusing to try to understand is WRONG.

    These men were in actuality saying the Trinity is taught explicitly in scripture, is reasonable, and is apprehendable. No reader, without looking up the entire quotes, would be able to guess that these men were pro-Trinity and had some quality arguments to back up how the Trinity is biblical and makes sense. Their original intent has been stripped from the brochure. And it is not exactly easy to go and find these quotes for yourself. Watchtower mentions the books, but not chapters or page numbers or encyclopedia headings. Your average person doesn’t like to do research for themselves by searching out the source (that’s why bibliographies are so nice, they cut a lot of research time down for those of us who like to check up on what we are told).

    It sure looks deceptive to me when Watchtower misconstrues these men’s thoughts and then doesn’t make it easy for the reader to check into the original thoughts for themselves.

    Deborah

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